The Tree in the Playpen ~ A Christmas Story

“What are we going to do about a tree this year?” I asked my husband. “I’m pregnant with #3. Nauseous and'The Christ Child' tired. I need a little Peace on Earth…”

He had no idea. We’d come home from a friend’s Christmas party, where our son Ryan — just two yrs old and what some would call “hyperactive” – ie, his pediatrician – where he’d grabbed a big, red glass ornament from their tree. And tried to EAT it like an apple.The ornament broke in his little hands and pandemonium ensued, if only momentarily.

His parents were greatly embarrassed, though the hostess assured us it was No Big Deal. Ahem.

Ornament redhands     Since his big sister’s arrival, we had collected mostly unbreakable Christmas decorations. Crocheted snowflakes, “stained glass” ones we’d made our very first Holiday as newlyweds; sewn and stuffed folk-art ones, wooden ones, plastic ones (tasteful of course).

So mostly, our own ornaments weren’t hazardous…much. But there was the matter of electrical wiring…those sparkly-pretty lights within reach of our very curious, very active little boy. Electrocution came to mind.

On some errand to the garage, I spied the playpen leaning against a wall, waiting for the next baby to arrive the following summer. Smiling to myself, I thought of how I SWORE I’d “never confine a baby in such a cage.” Playpen boyThis was before we had children…this was before our sweet daughter Stephany had come along and burned herself — trip to the ER type of burn — not just once, but twice as a baby-toddler.

The first time she crawled onto the metal grill of a floor-furnace in an older duplex we rented. Not familiar with that klnd of heating, yet I didn’t think the grill got all that hot. I, however, didn’t have the tender skin of a baby. Steph crawled onto it — noticed it was hot — and did she do what you’d think, ie, quickly crawl off of it? Nope. Like a victim hanging on an electric fence (another story for another time; think Brownie Scouts meeting on a farm and the writer of this story, possibly) — she grabbed hold tighter. And screamed.

Second-degree burns, in a dark-pink, gridlike pattern, on the palms of both hands. The wearing of sad little gauze mittens, taped at her wrists, for 2 to 3 weeks. Have you ever seen a baby try to play wearing mittens? It is sad, sad, sad. Mama and Daddy were sad, sad. Debriding the burns was way more than sad, it was traumatic for everyone.

Next time, the next year, she crawled under my leg while I was removing a roast from the oven. Unknown to me, the rack wasn’t stable — and in trying to move her away, I lost my grip on the pan and the whole rack tipped….and all of it’s hot juices out of the pan and onto my baby’s little leg. (OH GOD, may you never live through such a thing) Another rush to the ER, where they must’ve labeled me Stupid Mother of the Year.

So when Ryan arrived, we bought a playpen. And used it. Regularly, but mostly when I was alone and fixing a meal or doing other dangerous things in the house.

Pondering the past usefulness of said playpen, my brain-gears sprang into motion…eureka?!?

“Hey,” I said to my husband who was doing whatever he did after work one day. “Could we put our Christmas tree in the playpen this year?”

“Um…huh?” he said. When I explained my worries, he jumped on the idea. We went tree-hunting and while it soaked, we told our 6 yr-old daughter about The Plan.

“It will still be sooo pretty!” I gushed, faking it. “Most of the tree will still stick out of the top, right?”

“Nooooo,” she wailed (no sucker she). “It won’t be pretty!”

We kept to The Plan and into the playpen went our tree. Ryan watched all of this without a clue of the Decorating Sacrifice we’d made, all for his safety — and for our sanity. We ran the lights well back in the branches, out of his reach. We hung the ornaments least likely to break within his reach. Tinsel was out of the question, clearly.

Ryan got busy soon after. He could hook his toes on the mesh of the pen and hoist himself up, clinging to the top rail. Swatting away, he knocked all the ornaments at or above the rail to the bottom of the playpen, where they stayed for the rest of the Blessed Season. A swath denuded of decor ran around the tree for several inches at the rail’s height.

We didn’t care. It was still a GORGEOUS tree. Ok…an exaggeration…but it was still “ok.”

Years later, Ryan is now grown and engaged. He’s a stepdaddy to not one, but THREE little ones under the age of THREE – and one on the way for next year. The little sister born the year after the Tree in the Playpen now has a toddling, adorable boy. He’s 15 months old this Christmas,. And he is into EVERYTHING. Did I mention that he’s here right now, and that said-daughter also brought a 7 wk-old puppy, plus her grown dog to visit us this Holiday? Yes, we thought we’d escaped such things; but no.

Yes…let’s all chant it together for their sakes: “What goes around, comes around.”

And around – again– full circle. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

ReapSow boomerangPlaypen tree


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